Local caseworker earns highest praise from Foster Care Review Program


D.A. Blodgett Executive Director Sharon Loughridge, left, and award-winning foster care worker Amy Venard stand by the children’s home sign on Leonard congratulating Venard.

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

The Foster Care Review Board Program (FCRBP) combines the interests of the legal system and the social work field in placing the welfare of children above all other concerns.

This year, the board decided a local social worker is the very best

foster care caseworker in the state.

Amy Venard, of the newly-merged D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s Homes for Children in Kent County, received the award at the FCRBP’s annual meeting in Mt. Pleasant.

Venard and winners in four other categories were honored in a post-breakfast ceremony. “When I found out that I was receiving the award I was very humbled,” Venard says.

Venard has worked at D.A. Blodgett for nine years, starting before she completed her bachelor’s degree. During that time, she received her Master’s of social work clinical license and is a credentialed LMSW.

Venard thanks her employer for allowing her the freedom to excel. “I have been extremely blessed to work for an agency that encourages me to go above and beyond for the families I work with.” As one recent example, she cites a suggestion from one of her young clients that the family visitation rooms be updated. D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s made the needed changes, and, Venard says, “Through this process we have provided additional dignity and respect to the families that we serve.”

The FCRBP is a system where qualified and trained volunteers, who do not need to be lawyers, review the cases of children in the state foster care system. The State Court Administrative Office of the Michigan Supreme Court administers the program.

Which cases they review is determined either by request or as a random “spot check” of existing cases.

The program was established by Public Act 422 in 1984, and amended in 1997, in order to “help ensure safe and timely permanency for children in the state foster care system.” There are 30 review board throughout Michigan.

Each case involves a permanency plan approved by the court. The review boards comment on that plan, and on the child’s treatment and care, in writing, including recommendations, for distribution to applicable courts, Department of Human Services local offices and contractors, and to others directly involved in the case. They may conduct appeals by foster parents of children’s placement changes, and inform the general public about foster care services.

There are more than 180 volunteers on the boards, donating more than 21,000 hours each year, receiving only meal and mileage reimbursement for attendance at review meetings.

A statewide advisory committee, composed of leaders in the child welfare community, reviews the reviews and also engages in systemic analysis, potentially advocating for improvements where it finds problems.

Stated Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly, the honorees “have demonstrated extraordinary dedication and leadership. These awards are well deserved.”

Venard was nominated by D.A. Blodgett Director Ron Apol, who reported that her “extraordinary efforts have resulted in a high rate of children being reunified with their families …. [she] epitomizes what a social worker in child welfare should be.”

The Foster Care Review Board agreed.